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Retail Tales with Brian Brehmer: A Visit from Corporate

Retail Tales with Brian Brehmer: A Visit from Corporate

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Those of us working in retail do have some things in common with those who have not been as fortunate to put on a lanyard, listen to Elton John’s Tiny Dancer and stacked cases of toothpaste. One of those things is the corporate visit.

Since we just had a visit from the boss’s boss’s boss, earlier this month, I will take you through how things went, even before the man walked through those automatic doors.

The very first thing that needs to be done is panic. Now, I’m not talking about its the end of the world and I feel fine type of panic, more like a run around like a chicken with its head cut off panic or like what one would expect should they ever decide to attempt to run with the bulls at Pamplona. It’s all hands on deck and everyone must do whatever they can to make the store presentable for a king or queen, or a visiting dignitary.

The first thing that needs to be done, is to clean the floors, the lobby, the windows and doors, polish the brass and the silver, and lay out the good fine china and whitest linens (okay, maybe not the last part, but the rest most definitely).

Every aisle must be perfectly faced; making things picture perfect, and pretending as if this is the case every day, when everyone, including the main man himself knows it is not true. All signs must be posted, all displays and shippers must be out of the corner and onto the sales floor, things which were not done a day ago must be done now and appear as if this is the way that it always is and always will be, and not something done to please the man in the high castle.

A quick walk back to the office, where the office printer is literally on fire printing all the paperwork that should have been printed and filed and put into the appropriately colored binders months ago, Gone are the fast food menus, the fast food containers, hidden are the spots around the garbage cans that no one bothered to clean up when they made them and now they are as much a part of the floor as the worn out spots, remnants of the 10,000 steps 10,000 employees feet make each day every day, all day.

The stockroom, now that is another thing entirely. The stockroom is the catch-all for everything that has no space or place on the sales floor. Over in this corner, you might have 100 shelves that were never put back by 100 people who didn’t think they needed to put them in their place. There is a place for everything and that is apparently the stockroom. Then there are the areas designated for back stock, those things that will make their way to the floor one day, eventually, by someone.

On this day, my boss swept years of dust and dirt out of the stockroom, exposing a floor that probably hadn’t been seen since the 1984 Olympics or maybe the last time man walked on the moon. I didn’t know that the stockroom floor actually had color to it and wasn’t dirt/dust/stained colored.

Once all the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and not a creature was stirring, it was time for all hands on deck. All employees were told to be on their best behavior and to act as model employees. Gone are the crude jokes, the face timing one’s significant others, the monkey knife-fights, the heated debates as to where to get lunch that day, now it was time for business.

All employees were to make sure that they were in uniform and were standing at attention, eyes ahead, oblivious to all that was happening around them, with a look that would make the palace guards look sloppy and unprepared in comparison. Horns were sounded, red carpets rolled down, doves were released, and then they entered the store. All the lights that normally flickered were now focused on these men as they walked among the previously unwashed and unclean, the lowly peasants whose names they would not know or remember or even care, to them we were all Vera, Chuck and Dave, and we would be happy to have our new names spoken.

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The men walked throughout the store, pointing out things that could be better, and even better, all the while making sure not to say anything too positive so that the staff might not feel appreciated or that their work and sacrifice made a difference to anyone else. After notes had been taken and the red carpets had once again been rolled up, the men disappeared into the mist, making us wonder if they had actually been there or was it just the side effect of skipping lunch or working too many days in a row without a break, or the ever pleasant cloud of stress and frustration that hung over all of our heads?

What I do know, is that those who put down their ivory backscratchers and their $500 dollar silk ties, have no understanding that it is the little people who show up every day, who memorize the handbooks, who try not to laugh/cry when the reviews are read and the spare change given out as a raise, it is these little people who make it possible for these men to have a store to visit and to walk around in as if it was a king overseeing his kingdom and his serfs toiling namelessly, and tirelessly for him.

Retail, where when you thought it wasn’t possible to feel even smaller and less important, someone finds a way.

Cover image courtesy of bt via Flickr

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